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MAY
22
2015

Reconsidering San Miguel

We finally dragged ourselves out of Patzcuaro. That was an easy place to spend a couple of weeks. From there we drove north, navigating around Morelia, to a middle of nowhere in particular place. A guy recently opened up an RV park near Cuitzeo, and was happy to have us stop by, even offering us a free week. Turned out however, that the road in was way too steep for our little 318 V8. So instead he pointed us just down the road to a balneario. 

These are all over the place in Mexico—water parks usually consisting of three or four swimming pools and maybe a water slide or two. As with most businesses down here, they are perfectly willing to let you boondock for a small fee. The pool here was fed by a hot spring and was actually about ten degrees too hot, but the kids didn’t complain. The next morning when we went in again, before they opened up the spring, it was perfect. And hey, the view over the lake and of the nighttime lightning storm was pretty great too.

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Next stop, SMA.

I’ve been avoiding San Miguel de Allende for years because I’ve heard nothing about it except how many gringos have moved there. Twenty percent of the population, or some such craziness. On our VW trip we were essentially right down the road, yet we drove right past it. I’ve just been in no mood to give the place a chance.

I changed my mind a bit when I heard there was a campground right in town. Any time there is a campground in town where you can just walk out the door and be in the middle of things I get excited. It’s a small place, so right before leaving I shot them an e-mail just to confirm that they had space. They replied back and told us we were too long. Not because the park is too small, but because the roads in town are so narrow. Experience had shown them that twenty-six feet was the absolute maximum around one particular turn—we’re twenty-eight with our bumper. So with that option out we were left with the only other place, three miles out of town. My mood, which had been softening, was right back to disliking the place before we even arrived.

When we pulled into the RV park I knew for certain that I hated San Miguel. Nothing more than a small parking lot behind an empty hotel, yet inexplicably it was the most expensive RV park in all of Mexico. They actually charged us an extra 150 pesos for our kids. In the States, this wouldn’t surprise me much, but in Mexico, where children are revered, I couldn’t believe it. Yep, San Miguel sucks.

This morning we hopped the bus to town. I was still pretty sure I hated the place. Then we got off the bus and started walking up Hidalgo toward the center of town. After about three blocks I was thinking, okay, maybe it’s not as bad as I thought. We hung out in a couple of the smaller plazas, then wandered over to the cathedral through absolutely gorgeous colorful colonial streets. And then there it was, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel—also known as the big pink church. Wow, this place could almost convert a heathen like me on the whole religion thing.

It really is a beautiful town, and man, I know all the gringos go back north because summer is on its way up there, but right now has to be one of the best times of the year as far as weather goes here in Mexico. It’s perfect—low 80s with big puffy white clouds against the thin-air blue sky.

So, okay, I get it now. San Miguel doesn’t suck at all—I take that back.

This here is the most expensive RV park we’ve ever found ourselves in Mexico. Nice.

May21-7

Our table finally gave in to the forty or fifty pound weights that seem to be constantly clambering over it. I cut it down another inch and reattached the rail. We really need to stop in somewhere and have a hardwood table cut for us.

May21-8

Everybody working.

May21-9

A day in San Miguel de Allende.

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MAY
19
2015

More Patzcuaro Wanderings

We thought we’d go visit Volcán Parícutin, fifty miles and two buses away from Patzcuaro. I’m not sure why we thought we could do this, a day after the kids narrowly escaped puking all over a bus. Actually, we thought it’d be all right because it would be a full size bus, not a kombi van. Well, the bus was packed solid, we were stuck in aisle seats with the kids on our laps, and the drapes on the windows were mostly pulled shut. This left the kids with no fresh air, no view, and mountain corners taken at a speed that required us all to brace ourselves using feet and hands.

It didn’t take but ten minutes for Lowe to start showing signs. Five more minutes and it was clear he was going to blow chunks if we didn’t do something. We were smack dab in the middle of nowhere, but when the bus pulled over to pick a few more people up we bailed out anyway. We’d covered twelve miles. Fortunately there must have been a town down the road from the intersection we got dropped off at and it didn’t take long for an empty taxi to come by. We hopped in and were happy to get dropped off right back at the plaza in Patzcuaro.

I don’t blame him, because the buses have been pretty terrible, but Lowe was never our seasick baby. I half expect this sort of thing from Ouest, but I wouldn’t have guessed it with Lowe. Thank goodness they don’t get sick in our bus.

May18-1

Lowe is happy doing nothing but driving his cars around the water fountains in the plazas. He seriously requests this as something for us to go and do. When we were at this fountain a few days ago a homeless guy who was acting strange came over to me and Lowe. I had been talking to him for a few minutes when Lowe accidentally dropped his car in the fountain. You can see in the picture that it isn’t very deep, so I started to roll my sleeve up when all of the sudden the guy yanked off his shirt and about dove into the water. He stuck his entire upper body underwater and came up spluttering. Lowe took the car from him, with one eye on me, and a look that basically said, “WTF?”

May18-2

Literally every fountain in every plaza.

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We have found great food in every nearby town, but we have totally struck out in Patzcuaro. Quiroga, fifteen miles away, is spilling carnitas in the streets, and yet carnitas haven’t seemed to find their way here yet. Tzintzuntzan was frying up gorditas fresh on the sidewalk, but I couldn’t find one here. The restaurants we did eat at were unmemorable, to put it politely. But the other day when we were down the road at the bus stop, well away from the center of town, we noticed a birrieria restaurant that looked okay. We had a very good birrieria de borrego, and fifteen steak tacos. Count ’em, fifteen. Granted, they are tiny—only three good bites—but still, fifteen? Food is my biggest fear regarding our family finances. Good thing these were only seven pesos each.

After dinner we walked around the neighborhood a bit. We were hoping to get lucky and be there when a train came by. We told Lowe, “We’ll sit here a few minutes and see if a train comes.” He promptly sat down with his feet on the tracks. We may have to move back a bit if a train does come.

May19-1 May19-2

This guy was happy to have me take a picture of his truck. He even tried to get Lowe to sit up on the hood for a shot.

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MAY
17
2015

Carnita Carnage

Some days they play so well together, some days not so much.

May16-1

Just out on the edge of town is a hill called Cerro el Estribo that was said to be a nice hike. Ali and I prefer to hike downhill, so we grabbed a cab to the end of the road, and then got to work. Four hundred and sixteen steps further to the top.

We’re at over 7,000 feet elevation here, so I’m going to use that as a bad excuse as to why the kids beat us to the top by over a hundred stairs. Honestly, I have no idea what would ever tire these two out.

After hitting the top we walked back down all the way into town. A good couple of miles worth of cobblestone roads. By the time we got back to the bus in the late afternoon Ali and I could have flopped down face first in the grass and fallen asleep. Instead, immediately upon our return, Ouest asked, “Will you jump rope with me?”

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As parents we walk a fine line between protecting our kids and letting them do things that we know are going to hurt them. We just have to judge how bad it is going to hurt, and if the lesson is worth it. This game below started out differently. At first they tied the one end to Ouest’s bike and then put the looped end around Lowe’s handle bars. I started to step in and then caught myself. I told them I didn’t think that would work and to be careful, then let them try it anyway. It didn’t take long for Ouest to make a turn and for Lowe to crash down when his handle bars got ripped sideways. He got right back up, still eager to find a way to make this game work, so then I gave my two cents and tied a bowline around the neck post for them. It wasn’t perfect, Lowe would occasionally run over the line, but they didn’t crash again, and they had a lot of fun.

May16-9

There is no shortage of things to see and do around Patzcuaro. Today we visited the nearby town of Quiroga. It was about a twenty minute drive up the road in a kombi bus. It only took about ten minutes for Ouest to tell me her stomach hurt. She was sweating and I noticed she was yawning nonstop as well. Pretty much any sailor knows what this means. Motion sickness. Ali handed us a bag and I tried to get her comfortable. We only had ten minutes to go.

Then Lowe started to cry out. His stomach hurt. Sweaty, pale, and coughing. Oh, this is not good.

Come on guys, two minutes, I can see the town up ahead.

We made it, the doors opened, and the four of us spilled out onto the shady sidewalk, breathing in the glorious fresh air. In all of our years of travel the one mystery that still astounds me is how no other culture wants fresh air circulating through their buses. They just sit there stewing with the windows all closed up tight. Our kids collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk with most of their clothes now off of their bodies. Grandmothers wearing eight layers of sweaters in the eighty degree heat walked past us and I could just sense their admonishments to get some clothes on our kids before they freeze to death.

Anyway, when the color returned to the kids’ cheeks, we gathered ourselves and headed up the street toward the Sunday market.

May17-1

I didn’t go into our Quiroga visit expecting much. I knew they were known for their carnitas, so that sounded good, but I was completely unprepared to find out just what carnitas really mean to this town.

All along the street were a dozen or more carnitas stands and hundreds of people lining up to buy. All the sellers were chopping off chunks of glorious pork and handing them out as samples. And not just a little bite with a toothpick in it, but instead an entire taco’s worth, complete with tortilla. Lowe was shoveling the meat in his mouth as fast as the different vendors were handing it to us. I finally settled on this guy, ordered up half a kilo, and watched as he chopped it up for me. The lady next to him frantically packing a bag with our tortillas and all the toppings.

Man, I am no foodie, but I’ve gotten pretty familiar with my carnitas over the years down here, and I have to say that this was the best I’ve had. Ali agreed wholeheartedly. Lowe packed his mouth until it was coming out his ears. And Ouest, well, she’ll eat just about anything wrapped in a tortilla calling itself a taco.

For the gringos out there who think Chipotle carnitas are actually good—you really have no idea.

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After getting the meat we walked back to the drink section for strawberry horchata, and then it was the job of those ladies to find us a table behind them to sit at. It took us a couple minutes to figure out this system, but we’d have it dialed in the next time.

May17-10May17-5

Lowe’s almost ready for a pedal bike—something like this I think.

May17-6 May17-7 May17-8 May17-9May17-11

Face painting. Just in the last couple of days I introduced Ouest to Mujer Maravilla, also known as Wonder Woman. So you can imagine how excited she was to see a picture of her at the face painting stand. She spent the rest of the day deflecting bullets with her bracelets and throwing a rope over my head to get me to tell her the truth about where the bank robbers were. Oh, and she also flew around a bit in her invisible airplane. Go Lynda Carter.

May17-12 May17-13

When he gets big enough to actually use tools and build things we are all in trouble.

May17-14

MAY
15
2015

We Get a Pet

Ouest said she wanted a pet worm. The pet store was completely sold out of worms, but we did find this lovely millipede just hanging out under a rock. She’s adorable, but a little camera shy. We all love her to death.

May15-1 May15-2

This campground is a lovely spot to have all to ourselves for a couple of weeks. Even the dozen or so rooms are sitting empty. The gardener just spent two full days hacking off weeds that are growing through the cracks in the long abandoned tennis court. It looks better, I guess, but things like that always make my American mind think about how the same job could have been accomplished in ten minutes with a weed whacker.

May15-3 May15-4

If ever a more photogenic car was built I don’t know what it is.

May15-5

Ouest learning to jump rope. We tried to teach her to simply hop an inch or two off the ground, but, well…

May15-6 May15-7

Another stroll around Pátzcuaro.

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These are the tiny fish—back home we call them bait—that they are busily netting over in the lake. Snack food.

May15-11 May15-12

Little plums are ten pesos a bag.

May15-13 May15-14

I saw this guy staring forlornly into the engine compartment and thought, how many people have stood over their VW engine like that?

May15-15

Doing my best to dislocate shoulders.

May15-16 May15-17 May15-18

MAY
13
2015

Morelia

Day two in Morelia the sky was blue and it was time to give the place another chance.

May13-1 May13-2

Kids and balloons. Lowe’s string broke two minutes after this picture. I chased the balloon for about three seconds before it was out of reach. Three more seconds and the tears began to well up in his eyes. Three more and the heartbroken sobs commenced. Three more seconds and out of the corner of my eye I saw three teens break away from their group and start running across the road. Lowe’s tears hadn’t stopped flowing by the time the three kids came back with the same balloon. We thanked them, but they just waved it off like it was nothing, and went right back to hanging out with their group. Nice.

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We found this park across the street from Plaza Morelos. There was an amusement park as well, but only open on the weekends. No matter, the kids spent a full hour on this little merry-go-round contraption. Lowe told me later that it was his favorite ride ever. Strong emphasis on ever.

Nearby was the Museum of Natural History. We were walking slowly through the mansion, just following the kids along when they stopped in their tracks. We caught up and found them staring at a whole bunch of fetuses in jars. Yikes. They are in no way ready for that. Some fast talking and non-sensical answers as we hustled out of the room saved us from a month of nightmares.

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This library is filled with nothing but ancient texts. Morelia is a college town, and I imagine this would be a pretty awesome quiet space to get some homework done.

May13-6

We read that this building housed a photography exhibit so we thought we’d pop in. No people were inside, save for the six security guards standing around watching us stare uncomprehendingly at a strange series of photos. “Art” is not really our thing.

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On this day a group of people maybe twenty large began a demonstration by blocking the main artery through town directly in front of the cathedral. They set up a couple of tents, parked their cars haphazardly around the road, put up two small signs, and began their sit-in. Not sure what the story with this bug is, but without the toys on top I would have guessed that it was going to be used as a giant torch. I have to say that I would have expected cops around here to be a little more on edge about this sort of thing, but nobody seemed to care at all, even as day two rolled around.

May13-10

On our last morning we went up to the hotel roof to have breakfast. A cathedral view, white linens, waiters dressed better than I have in my life, and breakfast for four still only comes to twenty bucks.

May13-11 May13-12

It’s nice the poor can have such an opulent place to come beg forgiveness. Ouch.

May13-13 May13-14

We’re in Michoacán, which is pretty much cartel central, so I’m guessing that this pigeon was hung here as a warning to other pigeons.

May13-15

Here’s what our kids enjoy most about a visit to a beautiful cathedral.

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All right, so Morelia didn’t win us over. Something about it just didn’t click with us, and I don’t know what. I’m guessing we may have had a more favorable impression on the weekend, but we won’t know for sure this time through.